May your possessions not possess you. Naso: Climate Change and Consumption

In this week’s Torah reading we are offered a three-fold, priestly blessing that begins, Yeverachecha Adonai VeYeshemerach- May God bless you and protect you (Numbers 6:24). Isaac Abravanel (15-16th century, Spain-Italy) understood this blessing as cautionary: May God give you material abundance and protect you from the possessions possessing you. We run the risk of obsessively gathering and hoarding objects at the expense of greater purpose. Many choose to ignore the duties and rewards of delayed gratification. Woe to our planet when it becomes just an object to consume in the immediate moment.

Years ago I gave a High Holiday sermon on climate change and our need to protect our environment. For on Rosh Hashanah when the shofar is blasted we chant, “Today the world was called into being.” As we begin a new year, we are reminded that the world is a gift and that we are stewards. One listener found my addressing the science of climate as a political commentary and he said with great emotion, “I will never concede that there is global warming.” I then understood. For him to acknowledge the findings of weather scientists was to concede the need for regulation and he viewed any regulation as wrongful business interference.

Treating our possessions as exclusively our own and an end in themselves is idolatry. When the planet’s future is endangered and short-sighted greed wins, God weeps.